Skip to main content
Internet Archive's 25th Anniversary Logo

Full text of "THE LANDLADY By Roald Dahl"

See other formats


THE LANDLADY 

ROALD DAHL 



Billy Weaver had travelled down from 
London on the slow afternoon train, with a 
change at Swindon on the way, and by the 
time he got to Bath it was about nine 
o’clock in the evening and the moon was 
coming up out of a clear starry sky over 
the houses opposite the station entrance. 
But the air was deadly cold and the wind 
was like a flat blade of ice on his cheeks. 

“Excuse me,” he said, “but is there a 
fairly cheap hotel not too far away from 
here?” 

“Try The Bell and Dragon,” the porter 
answered, pointing down the road. “They 
might take you in. It’s about a quarter of a 
mile along on the other side.” 

Billy thanked him and picked up his 
suitcase and set out to walk the quarter- 
mile to The Bell and Dragon. He had 
20 never been to Bath before. He didn’t know 
anyone who lived there. But Mr 
Greenslade at the Head Office in London 
had told him it was a splendid city. “Find 
your own lodgings,” he had said, “and 
then go along and report to the Branch 
Manager as soon as you’ve got yourself 
settled.” 

Billy was seventeen years old. He was 
wearing a new navy-blue overcoat, a new 
brown trilby hat, and a new brown suit, 
and he was feeling fine. He walked briskly 
down the street. He was trying to do 
everything briskly these days. Briskness, 
he had decided, was the one common 
characteristic of all successful 
businessmen. The big shots up at Head 
Office were absolutely fantastically brisk 
all the time. They were amazing. 

There were no shops on this wide street 
40 that he was walking along, only a line of 
tall houses on each side, all them 
identical. They had porches and pillars 
and four or five steps going up to their 
front doors, and it was obvious that once 
upon a time they had been very swanky 
residences. But now, even in the 
darkness, he could see that the paint was 
peeling from the woodwork on their doors 
and windows, and that the handsome 



white fagades were cracked and blotchy from 
neglect. 

Suddenly, in a downstairs window that was 
brilliantly illuminated by a street-lamp not six 
yards away, Billy caught sight of a printed 
notice propped up against the glass in one of 
the upper panes. It said BED AND 
BREAKFAST. There was a vase of yellow 
chrysanthemums, tall and beautiful, standing 
just underneath the notice. 

60 He stopped walking. He moved a bit closer. 

Green curtains (some sort of velvety 
material) were hanging down on either side of 
the window. The chrysanthemums looked 
wonderful beside them. He went right up and 
peered through the glass into the room, and 
the first thing he saw was a bright fire burning 
in the hearth. On the carpet in front of the fire, 
a pretty little dachshund was curled up asleep 
with its nose tucked into its belly. 

The room itself, so far as he could see in 
the half-darkness, was filled with pleasant 
furniture. There was a baby-grand piano and 
a big sofa and several plump armchairs; and 
in one corner he spotted a large parrot in a 
cage. Animals were usually a good sign in a 
place like this, Billy told himself; and all in all, 
it looked to him as though it would be a pretty 
decent house to stay in. Certainly it would be 
more comfortable than The Bell and Dragon. 

80 On the other hand, a pub would be more 
congenial than a boarding-house. There 
would be beer and darts in the evenings, and 
lots of people to talk to, and it would probably 
be a good bit cheaper, too. He had stayed a 
couple of nights in a pub once before and he 
had liked it. He had never stayed in any 
boarding-houses, and, to be perfectly honest, 
he was a tiny bit frightened of them. The 
name itself conjured up images of watery 
cabbage, rapacious landladies, and a 
powerful smell of kippers in the living-room. 

After dithering about like this in the cold for 
two or three minutes, Billy decided that he 
would walk on and take a look at The Bell 
and Dragon before making up his mind. He 
turned to go. And now a queer thing 
happened to him. He was in the act of 
stepping back and turning away from the 




window when all at once his eye was 
100 caught and held in the most peculiar 
manner by the small notice that was there. 
BED AND BREAKFAST, it said. BED AND 
BREAKFAST, BED AND BREAKFAST, 
BED AND BREAKFAST. Each word was 
like a large black eye staring at him 
through the glass, holding him, compelling 
him, forcing him to stay where he was and 
not to walk away from that house, and the 
next thing he knew, he was actually 
moving across from the window to the 
front door of the house, climbing the steps 
that led up to it, and reaching for the bell. 

He pressed the bell. Far away in a back 
room he heard it ringing, and then at once 
- it must have been at once because he 
hadn’t even had time to take his finger 
from the bell-button - the door swung 
open and a woman was standing there. 

Normally you ring the bell and you have 
120 at least a half-minute’s wait before the 
door opens. But this dame was a like a 
jack-in-the-box. He pressed the bell - and 
out she popped! It made him jump. 

She was about forty-five or fifty years 
old, and the moment she saw him, she 
gave him a warm welcoming smile. 

“Please come in,” she said pleasantly. 
She stepped aside, holding the door wide 
open, and Billy found himself 

automatically starting forward into the 
house. The compulsion or, more 

accurately, the desire to follow after her 
into that house was extraordinarily strong. 

“I saw the notice in the window,” he said, 
holding himself back. 

“Yes, I know.” 

“I was wondering about a room.” 

“It's all ready for you, my dear,” she said. 
She had a round pink face and very gentle 
140 blue eyes. 

“I was on my way to The Bell and 
Dragon,” Billy told her. “But the notice in 
your window just happened to catch my 
eye.” 

“My dear boy,” she said, “why don't you 
come in out of the cold?” 

“How much do you charge?” 

“Five and sixpence a night, including 
breakfast.” 



It was fantastically cheap. It was less than 
half of what he had been willing to pay. 

“If that is too much,” she added, “then 
perhaps I can reduce it just a tiny bit. Do you 
desire an egg for breakfast? Eggs are 
expensive at the moment. It would be 
sixpence less without the egg.” 

“Five and sixpence is fine,” he answered. “I 
should like very much to stay here.” 

“I knew you would. Do come in.” 

160 She seemed terribly nice. She looked 
exactly like the mother of one’s best school- 
friend welcoming one into the house to stay 
for the Christmas holidays. Billy took off his 
hat, and stepped over the threshold. 

“Just hang it there,” she said, “and let me 
help you with your coat.” 

There were no other hats or coats in the 
hall. There were no umbrellas, no walking- 
sticks - nothing. 

“We have it all to ourselves,” she said, 
smiling at him over her shoulder as she led 
the way upstairs. 

“You see, it isn’t very often I have the 
pleasure of taking a visitor into my little nest.” 
The old girl is slightly dotty, Billy told 
himself. But at five and sixpence a night, who 
gives a damn about that? - “I should've 
thought you’d be simply swamped with 
applicants,” he said politely. 

180 “Oh, I am, my dear, I am, of course I am. 
But the trouble is that I'm inclined to be just a 
teeny weeny bit choosy and particular - if you 
see what I mean.” 

“Ah, yes.” 

“But I’m always ready. Everything is always 
ready day and night in this house just on the 
off-chance that an acceptable young 
gentleman will come along. And it is such a 
pleasure, my dear, such a very great 
pleasure when now and again I open the 
door and I see someone standing there who 
is just exactly right.” She was half-way up the 
stairs, and she paused with one hand on the 
stair-rail, turning her head and smiling down 
at him with pale lips. “Like you,” she added, 
and her blue eyes travelled slowly all the way 
down the length of Billy's body, to his feet, 
and then up again. 

On the first-floor landing she said to him, 
200 “This floor is mine.” 

They climbed up a second flight. “And this 
one is all yours,” she said. “Here’s your room. 




I do hope you’ll like it.” She took him into a 
small but charming front bedroom, 
switching on the light as she went in. 

“The morning sun comes right in the 
window, Mr Perkins. It is Mr Perkins, isn’t 
it?” 

“No,” he said. “It’s Weaver.” 

“Mr Weaver. How nice. I’ve put a water- 
bottle between the sheets to air them out, 
Mr Weaver. It’s such a comfort to have a 
hot water-bottle in a strange bed with 
clean sheets, don’t you agree? 

And you may light the gas fire at any time 
if you feel chilly.” 

“Thank you,” Billy said. “Thank you ever 
so much.” He noticed that the bedspread 
had been taken off the bed, and that the 
220 bedclothes had been neatly turned back 
on one side, all ready for someone to get 
in. 

“I’m so glad you appeared,” she said, 
looking earnestly into his face. “I was 
beginning to get worried.” 

“That’s all right,” Billy answered brightly. 
“You mustn’t worry about me.” He put his 
suitcase on the chair and started to open 
it. 

“And what about supper, my dear? Did 
you manage to get anything to eat before 
you came here?” 

“I’m not a bit hungry, thank you,” he 
said. “I think I’ll just go to bed as soon as 
possible because tomorrow I’ve got to get 
up rather early and report to the office.” 

“Very well, then. I’ll leave you now so 
that you can unpack. But before you go to 
bed, would you be kind enough to pop into 
240 the sitting-room on the ground floor and 
sign the book? Everyone has to do that 
because it’s the law of the land, and we 
don’t want to go breaking any laws at this 
stage in the proceedings, do we?” She 
gave him a little wave of the hand and 
went quickly out of the room and closed 
the door. 

Now, the fact that his landlady appeared 
to be slightly off her rocker didn’t worry 
Billy in the least. After all, she was not 
only harmless - there was no question 
about that - but she was also quite 
obviously a kind and generous soul. He 
guessed that she had probably lost a son 



in the war, or something like that, and had 
never got over it. 

So a few minutes later, after unpacking his 
suitcase and washing his hands, he trotted 
downstairs to the ground floor and entered 
260 the living-room. His landlady wasn’t there, but 
the fire was glowing in the hearth, and the 
little dachshund was still sleeping in front of it. 
The room was wonderfully warm and cosy. 
I’m a lucky fellow, he thought, rubbing his 
hands. This is a bit of all right. 

He found the guest-book lying open on the 
piano, so he took out his pen and wrote down 
his name and address. There were only two 
other entries above his on the page, and, as 
one always does with guest-books, he started 
to read them. One was a Christopher 
Mulholland from Cardiff. The other was 
Gregory W. Temple from Bristol. That’s 
funny, he thought suddenly. Christopher 
Mulholland. It rings a bell. Now where on 
earth had he heard that rather unusual name 
before? 

Was he a boy at school? No. Was it one of 
his sister’s numerous young men, perhaps, or 
280 a friend of his father’s? No, no, it wasn’t any 
of those. He glanced down again at the book. 
Christopher Mulholland, 231 Cathedral Road, 
Cardiff. Gregory W. Temple, 27 Sycamore 
Drive, Bristol. As a matter of fact, now he 
came to think of it, he wasn’t at all sure that 
the second name didn’t have almost as much 
of a familiar ring about it as the first. 

“Gregory Temple?” he said aloud, 
searching his memory. “Christopher 
Mulholland? ...” 

“Such charming boys,” a voice behind him 
answered, and he turned and saw his 
landlady sailing into the room with a large 
silver tea-tray in her hands. She was holding 
it well out in front of her, and rather high up, 
as though the tray were a pair of reins on a 
frisky horse. 

“They sound somehow familiar,” he said. 

“They do? How interesting.” 

300 “I’m almost positive I’ve heard those names 
before somewhere. Isn’t that queer? Maybe it 
was in the newspapers. They weren’t famous 
in any way, were they? I mean famous 
cricketers or footballers or something like 
that?” 

“Famous,” she said, setting the tea-tray 
down on the low table in front of the sofa. “Oh 




no, I don’t think they were famous. But 
they were extraordinarily handsome, both 
of them, I can promise you that. They 
were tall and young and handsome, my 
dear, just exactly like you.” 

Once more, Billy glanced down at the 
book. 

“Look here,” he said, noticing the dates. 
“This last entry is over two years old.” 

“It is?” 

“Yes, indeed. And Christopher 
Mulholland’s is nearly a year before that - 
320 more than three years ago.” 

“Dear me,” she said, shaking her head 
and heaving a dainty little sigh. “I would 
never have thought it. How time does fly 
away from us all, doesn’t it, Mr Wilkins?” 
“It’s Weaver,” Billy said. “W-e-a-v-e-r.” 
“Oh, of course it is!” she cried, sitting 
down on the sofa. “How silly of me. I do 
apologise. In one ear and out the other, 
that’s me, Mr Weaver.” 

“You know something?” Billy said. 
‘Something that’s really quite 
extraordinary about all this?” 

“No, dear, I don’t.” 

“Well, you see - both of these names, 
Mulholland and Temple, I not only seem to 
remember each one of them separately, 
so to speak, but somehow or other, in 
some peculiar way, they both appear to be 
sort of connected together as well. As 
340 though they were both famous for the 
same sort of thing, if you see what I mean 
- like ... like Dempsey and Tunney, for 
example, or Churchill and Roosevelt.” 
“How amusing,” she said. “But come 
over here now, dear, and sit down beside 
me on the sofa and I’ll give you a nice cup 
of tea and a ginger biscuit before you go 
to bed.” 

“You really shouldn’t bother,” Billy said. 
“I didn’t mean you to do anything like that.” 
He stood by the piano, watching her as 
she fussed about with the cups and 
saucers. He noticed that she had small, 
white, quickly moving hands, and red 
finger-nails. 

“I’m almost positive it was in the 
newspapers I saw them,” Billy said. “I’ll 
think of it in a second. I’m sure I will.” 
There is nothing more tantalising than a 
360 thing like this which lingers just outside the 



borders of one’s memory. He hated to give 
up. 

“Now wait a minute,” he said. “Wait just a 
minute. Mulholland ... Christopher Mulholland 
... wasn’t that the name of the Eton schoolboy 
who was on a walking-tour through the West 
Country, and then all of a sudden ...” 

“Milk?” she said. “And sugar?” 

“Yes, please. And then all of a sudden ...” 
“Eton schoolboy?” she said. “Oh no, my 
dear, that can’t possibly be right because my 
Mr Mulholland was certainly not an Eton 
schoolboy when he came to me. He was a 
Cambridge undergraduate. Come over here 
now and sit next to me and warm yourself in 
front of this lovely fire. Come on. Your tea’s 
all ready for you.” She patted the empty place 
beside her on the sofa, and she sat there 
smiling at Billy and waiting for him to come 
380 over. He crossed the room slowly, and sat 
down on the edge of the sofa. She placed his 
teacup on the table in front of him. 

“There we are,” she said. “How nice and 
cosy this is, isn't it?” 

Billy started sipping his tea. She did the 
same. For half a minute or so, neither of them 
spoke. But Billy knew that she was looking at 
him. Her body was half-turned towards him, 
and he could feel her eyes resting on his 
face, watching him over the rim of her teacup. 
Now and again, he caught a whiff of a 
peculiar smell that seemed to emanate 
directly from her person. It was not in the 
least unpleasant, and it reminded him - well, 
he wasn’t quite sure what it reminded him of. 
Pickled walnuts? New leather? Or was it the 
corridors of a hospital? 

“Mr Mulholland was a great one for his tea,” 
she said at length. “Never in my life have I 
400 seen anyone drink as much tea as dear, 
sweet Mr Mulholland.” 

“I suppose he left fairly recently,” Billy said. 
He was still puzzling his head about the two 
names. 

He was positive now that he had seen them 
in the newspapers - in the headlines. 

“Left?” she said, arching her brows. “But my 
dear boy, he never left. He’s still here. Mr 
Temple is also here. They’re on the third 
floor, both of them together.” 

Billy set down his cup slowly on the table, 
and stared at his landlady. She smiled back 
at him, and then she put out one of her white 




hands and patted him comfortingly on the 
knee. “How old are you, my dear?” she 
asked. 

“Seventeen.” 

“Seventeen!” she cried. “Oh, it’s the 
perfect age! Mr Mulholland was also 
420 seventeen. But I think he was a trifle 
shorter than you are, in fact I’m sure he 
was, and his teeth weren’t quite so white. 
You have the most beautiful teeth, Mr 
Weaver, did you know that?” 

“They’re not as good as they look,” Billy 
said. 

“They’ve got simply masses of fillings in 
them at the back.” 

“Mr Temple, of course, was a little 
older,” she said, ignoring his remark. “He 
was actually twenty eight. And yet I never 
would have guessed it if he hadn’t told 
me, never in my whole life. There wasn’t a 
blemish on his body.” 

“A what?” Billy said. 

“His skin was just like a baby’s.” 

There was a pause. Billy picked up his 
teacup and took another sip of his tea, 
then he set it down again gently in its 
440 saucer. He waited for her to say 
something else, but she seemed to have 
lapsed into another of her silences. He sat 
there staring straight ahead of him into the 
far corner of the room, biting his lower lip. 

“That parrot,” he said at last. “You know 
something? It had me completely fooled 
when I first saw it through the window 
from the street. I could have sworn it was 
alive.” 

“Alas, no longer.” 

“It’s most terribly clever the way it’s been 
done,” he said. “It doesn’t look in the least 
bit dead. Who did it?” 

“I did.” 

“You did?” 

“Of course,” she said. “And have you 
met my little Basil as well?” She nodded 
towards the dachshund curled up so 
comfortably in front of the fire. Billy looked 
460 at it. And suddenly, he realised that this 
animal had all the time been just as silent 
and motionless as the parrot. He put out a 
hand and touched it gently on the top of its 
back. The back was hard and cold, and 
when he pushed the hair to one side with 
his fingers, he could see the skin 



underneath, greyish-black and dry and 
perfectly preserved. 

“Good gracious me,” he said. “How 
absolutely fascinating.” He turned away from 
the dog and stared with deep admiration at 
the little woman beside him on the sofa. “It 
must be most awfully difficult to do a thing 
like that.” 

“Not in the least,” she said. “I stuff all my 
little pets myself when they pass away. Will 
you have another cup of tea?” 

“No, thank you,” Billy said. The tea tasted 
faintly of bitter almonds, and he didn’t much 
480 care for it. 

“You did sign the book, didn’t you?” 

“Oh, yes.” 

“That’s good. Because later on, if I happen 
to forget what you were called, then I can 
always come down here and look it up. I still 
do that almost every day with Mr Mulholland 
and Mr . . .Mr...” 

“Temple,” Billy said. “Gregory Temple. 
Excuse my asking, but haven’t there been 
any other guests here except them in the last 
two or three years?” 

Holding her teacup high in one hand, 
inclining her head slightly to the left, she 
looked up at him out of the corners of her 
eyes and gave him another gentle little smile. 

“No, my dear,” she said. ‘Only you.' 



500 



© Roald Dahl 

Reprinted by kind permission of David 
Higham Associates 

‘The Landlady’ first appeared in ‘Kiss Kiss’